The Last Secretary-General

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The New York Sun

The new Turtle Bay chief — most likely the South Korean foreign minister, Ban Ki-moon — must realize that if he stays in office for two terms, he may go down in history as the last U.N. secretary-general.

Can this inefficient, corrupt institution, which was born of the victory over the Nazis, shaped during the Cold War, and kept on life support during the short-lived single-superpower era, survive another decade as new alliances shape a new international power structure?

Mr. Ban announced his candidacy in February. Since then, according to the London Times, Seoul has been on a foreign aid spending spree that has concentrated on members of the Security Council, which selects new secretaries-general.The outlays include an $18 million education grant for Tanzania, a grand piano for Peru’s shiny new Korean cultural center, a $1 billion new Kia factory for Slovakia, and maritime, trade, and tourism agreements for Greece.

Press reports have detailed how President Roh of South Korea convinced President Bush to back Mr. Ban’s candidacy. Other permanent council members have hinted that they might veto Mr. Ban unless he promises them key U.N. positions.

This selection process re-emphasizes Turtle Bay’s patronage system, and Mr. Ban, who came to play ball, hardly seems like the best candidate to clean up the mess that was highlighted during the oil-for-food scandal.Meanwhile, what positive difference is the United Nations expected to make during the next decade?

If you think partisanship has frozen Washington, just wait until next year’s paralysis of the Security Council, when newcomer Venezuela begins pushing China and Russia even further away from America and Europe.

The Venezuelan foreign minister, Nicolas Maduro, asked to join a council debate last week on terrorism to argue that a plane hijacking by a Cuban exile 30 years ago proves that America is a terrorist state.

Afterward, Mr. Maduro called me a “spokesman for the syndicate” when I asked about his hyped-up recent airport adventure.The high-ranking diplomat, traveling to Miami from New York with a one-way ticket bought with cash, was stopped for an interview by an overeager airport security agent.

“We ask for an end to racism against people from the south, whether for their color, their nationality, or their religion,” Mr. Maduro said. “If they did this to me as a foreign minister, imagine what is in store for other citizens.”

Yes, just imagine: In 2004, armed agents raided the Caracas private school Colegio Hebraica and searched in vain among the children’s toys and Jewish artifacts for traces of clandestine Mossad activity.

But as President Chavez’s “diablo” speech showed, demagoguery is wellreceived at Turtle Bay, where many diplomats (and much of the resident bureaucracy) believe America is far from a force for good in the world.

Last week, Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown complained to the Independent about Mr. Bush and Prime Minister Blair’s “megaphone” diplomacy on Darfur.Their confrontational policy on Khartoum, he argued, is a failure — unlike the United Nations’s strategy of coddling of genocidal regimes.

Mr. Malloch Brown’s remarks came after some modest success for America’s leadership at the council. Although the Arab bloc, Russia, and an ever bolder

China have shielded Khartoum from any significant pressure, America still marshaled enough support at least to declare that a U.N.-led force is needed to protect Darfur’s victims, despite President Bashir’s refusal to let such a force in.

When Venezuela joins the Security Council, expect further inaction on issues like Iran and North Korea, and increased pressure on America to end its vetoing of anti-Israeli resolutions. Meanwhile, at the Human Rights Council — which America declined to join because it did not represent a sufficient improvement over its discredited predecessor — the only country-specific resolutions that have passed so far are directed at Israel.

Even Jerusalem’s critics must admit that an organization with an international mandate is a bit wasteful if its sole purpose is to denounce Israel, a job done competently enough by regional alliances like the Arab League. As one league member, Mr. Bashir, said recently, the world is interested in the plight of his citizens only because of pressure from “Jewish and Zionist organizations.”

If he is confirmed, as early as today, will the now pro-American Mr. Ban be able to persuade future Washington administrations to finance Turtle Bay, with its diminishing image among voters and its failure to deliver foreign policy dividends? Without America, there is no United Nations, and betting on America staying until 2017 is a risky proposition.

The New York Sun

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